So, the second centipede emerges. Dun dun DUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUN.
Polena moves over to Strelok and asks if this is one of those times when she should use her “bad” magic, or if she should just stay back and hope it doesn’t eat her. “YES! KILL IT!” Strelok shoots at it, destroying an eye. The head is now covered with sticky purple ichor. The centipede curls around to consider us. A bubble swells in its throat; Hayden yells for everyone to get down. It froths a bit at the mouth just before projectile vomitting, catching Sheila and Aeric with an acid attack.
Aeric ducks behind a bush and pulls out a vial to drink. Meanwhile, the rumbling beneath our feet becomes more intense, and the ground behind the current centipede bulges. A third centipede emerges (we are now fighting two). Zephyr moves so that she has a clear shot at the centipedes, and casts spectral hand. Wanting to get a range weapon from Zephyr, Hayden goes to follow her, but is stopped by Polena. His arm feels warm and tingly. Polena says he is now protected from the acid. Not so much from electricity… Hayden goes to Zephyr and is handed an alchemist’s fire. Sheila attacks the one-eyed centipede and kicks its fucking ASS. Basically cuts it in half. Hayden mutters about kill stealing. Sheila’s sword again begins to bubble and smoke.
Polena starts walking slowly towards the remaining centipede. She stops about twenty feets away, closes her eyes, and creates a huge wave of water to push the centipede back into its hole. The tunnel collapses, and the rumbling feeling beneath our feet now feels more like desperate thrashing. Strelok considers casting lightning bolt, but is apparently delirious with pain… he doesn’t have that spell. Aeric darts out, grabs a dazed Polena, and yanks her back behind a bush. After another moment, the rumbling ceases. One remaining centipede creeps pathetically out of the ground and lays on the ground, facing away from the party. Hayden and Sheila walk over to it. Strelok approaches halfway, then shoots it between the eyes. Or tries… one of its mandibles is shot off. It squirms sluggishly. Zephyr returns to her bedroll, figuring the others can handle the rest. Hayden throws his vial of alchemist’s fire down its gullet. It thrashes and dies.
There is still an hour left for middle watch. Before returning to bed, Strelok shoots the centipede in the face. Sheila goes around to see if people need healing. Strelok’s hand and forearm are blistered and painful, traveling as far up the arm as the splash of the centipede’s blood reached. Polena is able to use a restoration spell; it remains painful, but is now usable (no more con damage). Rather than take her remaining hour of sleep, Sheila works on buffing her sword.
Strelok’s bird — Jake — seems perturbed about not being invited to help; bugs are his favorite food. He nips Strelok’s shoulder. Strelok offers scorpion meat, but before allowing Jack to eat it, Strelok firmly tells his bird that he would have been killed. “Kill you. Bad.” Strelok’s finger is nipped as the food is taken, but Jack seems happy now. Strelok goes to sleep.
The remainder of the middle shift and the entirety of the morning shift are uneventful. Sheila’s sword still has a few pockmarks, but is mostly buffed out. She waits an extra hour before waking the party. In the meantime, Aeric comes to her with “concerns about the morale of the party”. He says he does not mean to question her, but “a lack of a clear plan” in such a dangerous place makes him uneasy, and may be contributing to the unrest of the party. (Luckily, Zephyr is sleeping, so she does not go off on him). Sheila outlines the plan: go to the village, then head to the city. Aeric wants to know if we shall set up a base of operations at the city. Sheila says we will set up as defensible a position as possible before exploring the city. From there we go to the forest. However, because of the city’s size, we won’t have one defensible position; rather, we will keep moving, camping further along each night. Aeric thanks her for allaying his concerns. However, he also asks if she has considered a course of action should we find refugees; he implies that some might go feral in a place such as this, and become dangerous. She says that refuges from beyonds the woods are unheard of. Should it happen, the first priority is to find out why there are here.
The party wakes. We should reach the village by the end of the day. Zephyr goes to the centipede corpses. She hopes to collect a few vials of acid blood, but when putting a stick into it, nothing happens; it has become inert. She uses spectral hand to rend open one of the corpses, and uses the stick to test blood from heart; no affect. The liquidy-wax on the carapace may still be poisonous, but it has hardened and flakes off. She collects the flakes into several vials. She takes them to Polena and asks her to detect poison; she says there is poison present, but doesn’t think it will work in its current form. Zephyr says she will make an oil from it and bring it back to Polena for detection. Meanwhile, cute interactions happen between Strelok and his bird: bird nips, Strelok head butts; bird makes regurgitating noises, and Strelok threatens another head butt. Bird swallows. Strelok turns to leave, and hears a splat; the bird has pooped on his saddle. Strelok prestidigitates it clean. The bird attempts to avoid eye contact as Strelok threatens him. While being saddled, he kicks dirt onto Strelok’s boots. Strelok starts yelling at the bird, trying to convince it that not being included in the battle last night was for the bird’s own good. Jake continues to ignore Strelok.
Polena looks a bit “green around the gills” this morning. Strelok thanks her for the healing the night before, and Hayden compliments her wave spell. She is still feeling reluctant about the arcane magic use.
Concluding her inspection of the corpses, Zephyr notices that the wet patches now have mushrooms springing up. She and Hayden realize that the Forest has spread here due to there finally being enough water for it. Luckily, the areas around are just as dry, and this area will soon dry out as well. Still, it is an astounding demonstration of how prolific the Forest’s spores are; more mushrooms spring up even as the party watches. Zephyr takes a mushroom and puts it into an airtight jar; wanting to discover why the insects are increasing in numbers and attacking the wall more frequently, she feels the spread of the Forest may be relevant. This may be vital for future study. As she puts the jar into her pouch, the shadows within the pouch reveal a soft blue glow from the mushroom.
Zephyr has also translated another passage from the book; the work is going faster as she becomes familiar with the language.
First sign the smile does split
nose to nape open to lit
grinning madness blight feast
grow to fit the hapless man
et’ing mages hand.
She shares the passage with the party. They surmise that the last line means that the blight worms consume magic.
The party sets off for the village. We trudge. It is very hot. Hayden starts talking about the parable of the grasshopper and the ant— Zephyr says the lazy grasshoppers taking advantage of the hard-working ants reminds her of when Hayden used to not take night watches. Strelok tells the story of the scorpion and the frog, eyeing Hayden and Aeric as he does so. Hayden catches the look. “You’re the one eating scorpion… am I missing something?” Polena says her brother loved parables. He used to particularly like one about a not-so-wise owl. She doesn’t remember how it goes. We continue trudging. Navigation is more difficult today due to there being more heat waves making the horizon less clear. Strelok’s navigational skills keep us on track (the rocks are coated on one side with spores from the forest, so it is in that direction, “or some bullshit like that”. So sayeth the GM.)
Around 4:30pm, the heat starts to ebb ever so slightly, and we think we see buildings on the road ahead. We start seeing the remains of fences and farmhouses, abandoned farm equipment, etc. Places with thinner scrub look like they may have once been paths branching off from the main road. Within an hour, we reach a small, dilapidated village. Most buildings have been reduced to their foundations. A few stone buildings remain, most with collapsed rooves. A loud creaking sound alerts us to the fact that at least one nearby building is unstable. Hayden eagerly checks out the standing buildings, while Zephyr makes a rough map of the vilalge. There are three: Hayden first enters one that seems to have been a general store. The interior is decently intact, and it seems stable. There is a display case and shelving. It has been largely cleared out. There is a great deal of broken pottery. There are a few unmarked, sealed barrels; Hayden attempts to open one. It seems oddly sealed, unlike what he is used to. There is a dark resin, unlike the pitch used in sea ports. It is very heavy. Sheila enters and asks what he’s found. She takes the barrel out with ease. There are two Xs on the back. Hayden hopes for booze. The smell of pitch reminds Hayden of one of his first nights out on the town (“modern Haydenism”).
Hayden rifles through drawers and finds a tap, as well as two very sharp knives, 16 crossbow bolts, and ammo. Hayden calls to Strelok to tell him about the ammo. “Also booze.” Hayden puts in the tap; it is, in fact, booze. It’s been aging for a long time. Strelok fills his flask (the one stolen from several nights prior). He tastes the alcohol— it is horrendous. “Oh god, it’s the best and worst scotch I’ve ever had in my life! I don’t know if I should take this, or burn it where it stands!” Although the smell burns his nostrils, Hayden fills one of his waterskins with the stuff. Aeric comes in, saying he smells something “rather pleasantly unpleasant”. He also takes a flask. Sheila shakes her head at the strangeness. Strelok is still sputtering and wheezing.
Hayden opens a door in the back of the building. He sees something glowing in a corner of the dark room. Strelok provides light via magic. There are boxes and barrels, and in one corner… goo. Slick, shiny, the source of the glowing, attached to the wall like a cobweb. Hayden calls for Zephyr, who can’t hear him. He asks someone to go find the “little witch girl”, and Sheila leaves the building to call her. Strelok cannot quite figure out what he is looking at. He sees bone protruding from the goo. Closer inspection shows skull shards in the ichor. Where the goo touches the floor, mushrooms are springing up, their roots extending under the surface of the mebrane of the goo. Zephyr arrives. She and several of the others notices that the floor under it doesn’t quite line up with the rest of the floor; a trap door, perhaps?
Zephyr, in her research of the Forest, has read about large, slow moving beetles acting almost like agents of the forest; wrap up whatever they can’t eat, and leave it. Spores from the Forest appear. “Corpse piles”.
As Zephyr inspects, Strelok looks for a handle. He spots one beneath the ichor. Hayden stops him, takes out his flask of alcohol, and proposes burning it. (Polena and Aeric have returned outside to scout). Strelok doesn’t want to fuck with it. Hayden tries another method: he retrieves a small handsaw he saw out in the main store and cuts into the floor, rather than the goo. Hole big enough to see through, but an uncomfortable squeeze. We look through, Strelok sending light down. We see a cellar basement, still full of inventory; ransacking of the store probably happened after “corpse beetle” left its goo and blocked this storage space.
Strelok finds rope and tosses it at Hayden’s feet as he widens the hole. Hayden descends and starts rifling. Boxes are mostly unlabeled. Odds and ends, knick knacks, oddness. Swords in a corner, quality undetermined. Hayden uses an obviously rusted one as a crowbar to start opening things. Strelok comes down to assist. He examines the swords, but finds it hard to determine the quality in this lighting. A few seem to be completely unrusted. He grabs the untarnished and just slightly tarnished swords and brings them to Sheila, who brings them into natural light for examination. The unrusted swords look well-forged. One is marked with an old religious symbol, perhaps belonging to a paladin long ago. It is a long sword. The other’s hilt and blade are of an unusual style; clearly custom made. It is large, for two-handed use unless the weilder is exceptionally strong. [RETCON, only found the long sword]
Strelok requests help, but as an afterthought, asks who is keeping watch. Zephyr says Aeric and Polena are out scouting, but reminds them that Strelok’s bird would alert them to approaching badness.
Finds: hammers, nails, other hand tools, farming equipment, fertilizers; box of hand-marker vials (growth aid?), box of healing potions, third box of vials with reading unreadable in this lighting; two intact water skins, a carrying contraption (barrel-like with straps, a tap-like spout connected to a tube).
Sheila comes down to help. There is an armoir that calls to her. Opening it, she finds a beautiful set of fullplate armor, with insignias matching the longsword she had just examined. It is in excellent condition, not rusted at all. At the base of the armoir is a small velvet box containing a necklace with a heavy gold chain, centered with a large insignia matching those on armor and sword. Sheila wonders if it is a precursor of modern Pelor-ism. In the center of the insignia is a ruby. The sun insignia matches the symbol seen on the child’s corpse several days before. RETCON: this symbol in a more primative form is on the disk we found in the Veil.
Strelok takes the vials to Zephyr, and collects the carrying contraption and waterskins. He lays his finds on the building’s porch.
Also found: a prototype rifle. Looks like a piece of crap, but hey, historical value. Strelok sees Hayden holding it: “WOAH WOAH woah, that end to the floor!” Hayden has loaded it and pulls the trigger; bullet richochets off ceiling. Hayden: “It still works!” Strelok: “Son of a bitch!” Strelok enforces a mandatory gun safety lesson. Once in the sunlight, Strelok can tell it is at least 20 years old. It’s a wonder the thing ever shot, let alone currently can. Set of initials on stock (CR) makes Strelok think it might be an Original from the inventor of firearms (Cedric Riverstone). He confiscates the rifle reverently, and gushes, saying it is priceless (Hayden says if it is priceLESS, he isn’t interested in it). He gushes more.
Hayden takes some growth aid potion and puts it on his hand with the embedded shard. His hand tingles; it turns a shade of green akin to the armor, and spikes begin to emerge. Vine tendrils emerge and create a gauntlet. It hurts much less than usual. He takes several vials of the growth aid (which will let him use the armor on specific body parts, rather than in an all-or-nothing matter).
Assorted vials aren’t immediately identifiable. Zephyr examines them, and IDs:
3 Silvery mist vials – enchantment
2 bottles, red viscous – evocation
5 blue gels – divine, healing
2 pink liquid – conjuration
1 green mist – conjuration
1 silver glowing – abjuration
Aeric and Polena return from investigating the other buildings; nothing of value. Aeric recommends we camp here for the night. Neither of the other two buildings have corpse goo, and one of them is stable; we camp there.
That night, Zephyr discovers a slip of loose paper in book; same language, different dialect perhaps? Seems to be a personal note. Translation:
The creatures move quietly now, only two score remain of our scouting party. A contingent of 200 reduced to this. At least Uk’laar fell instead of… well we don’t like discussing the change in detail. I am haunted by their eyes. Lost to the blight but still afraid of their death.
WE ALL GAIN A LEVEL!